How much more can manufacturers do with smartphones? Six new releases offer numerous clues, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the first of a two-part series.
Will it bend? Will it float? Will it think? Will it simply disappear?
Smartphone manufacturers wrestle with these and numerous other questions from consumers who believe handset innovation has run its course. The questions do not embody expectations, but rather disbelief that there’s anywhere else for phones to go.
However, the phone makers keep revealing new frontiers and new ways to be smart. The same questions were being asked three years ago when Samsung was planning the Galaxy S6, the first phone with curved-edge screens. And when it was building the “infinity” edge-to-edge display of the S8 this year.
They were being asked before Huawei announced the first dual-rear camera in the P9, and the first artificial intelligence capability in the Mate 9, last year. They were also being asked last year before Motorola unveiled the Mod family of snap-on accessories for the Moto Z, which also happened to be the thinnest flagship phone in the world at the time.
It’s more than three years since LG showed off the first curved-body – and slightly bendable – phone with the Flex. No one has followed suit, because there was no serious use for that functionality. Two years later they came up with a modular phone, the G5, with interchangeable parts. That also didn’t take off, due to the invasiveness of the interchanging process.
Apple, of course, keeps innovating, although it now tends to play catch-up instead of leading smartphone innovation, as it did for at least five years after the 2007 launch of the iPhone. But it was still the first with fingerprint recognition on a phone, with Touch ID on the iPhone 5S in 2013.
Even the now-you-see-them-now-you-don’t Nokia still surprises, introducing two-way selfies – which they call “bothies” – in the Nokia 8 this year.
As these examples show, innovation is no longer about a revolution in gadgetry, but about steady increases in functionality.
Did someone say “performance”? Yes, performance keeps improving, but that’s a given. Every year, when Apple announces that its latest handset is “the best iPhone ever”, many observers grit their teeth at the obviousness of the statement.
The very basis of technology evolution is the ability to put more computing capacity into smaller spaces every year, resulting in the ability of any technology manufacturer to deliver improved performance with every new iteration of any device. If performance does not improve, it’s usually because someone isn’t doing their engineering job.
On that note, we consider the latest devices from Huawei, Samsung, Apple, LG, Sony, and even the little-known phone brand CAT, more renowned for bulldozers and other earth-moving equipment. First, this week, we look at the latter three:
LG V30+: a multimedia dream
Every year for the past four years, LG has announced a “revolutionary” new phone. Every year, the media have looked, marvelled, and moved on. In most cases, it was more novelty than revolution.
Now, it is allowing the phone to speak for itself. And the new LG V30+ is eloquent indeed.
From the front, with its curved edges, it is easily confused with the Samsung S8. The curve runs through to the back, and both front and back are coated in Corning Gorilla Glass 5, giving it an ultra-smooth look and feel. The edges are made of an aluminum alloy and, with an H-beam construction method for greater tensile strength, makes it more impact resistance than most flagship phones. It is designed for outdoors, rated IP68 for dust and water resistance.
A 3300 mAh battery supports wireless charging as well as Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0 – charging from zero to 50% in half an hour.
The most remarkable aspect of the phone is how light it is. Despite a Quad HD 6” display, it feels like a 5” handset, and weighs only 158g.
The V30+ is claimed to be the world’s first phone with a camera lens aperture of f1.6, meaning it lets in more light than any other phone camera. It marginally edges out the f1.7 aperture of the Samsung S8 range. It carries two rear lenses, with one a 13 megapixel wide angle lens, and the wide aperture lens being a standard angle, 16 megapixel lens using Crystal Clear, LG’s own standard for the first glass lens on a phone.
The front camera has a 5MP wide-angle lens with f2.2 aperture, allowing group “wefies” as opposed to one- or two-person selfies. A function called Graphy brings up pre-loaded sample photos that allow the user to choose a mood or style, and apply it to a new photo being taken.
An additional range of video and audio functions and capabilities – supported by
a Cine Video mode that is claimed to produce movie-quality videos, and Hi-Fi Quad DAC audio, with sound tuning by B&O PLAY – make the phone a multimedia dream.
Sony XZ1: the creator’s edition
The Sony Z series was legendary for its camera performance, with images outshining those from phones with more megapixels, lenses and shooting modes. With the XZ series, it is doing the same with video.
The XZ1 carries the same functionality as the XZ Premium, unveiled at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona earlier this year. So, for example it uses the Motion Eye camera system, which allows it to records video in 960 frames per second. This, in turn, allows ultra-slow motion video playback function, so that the phone can capture high-speed action and freeze individual frames. That lets the user capture movement that is not usually visible with the naked eye.
The most novel feature of the phone is its ability to create 3D images. By panning the camera round a face, head or physical object, the user creates an image that can be viewed from any angle, and built into 3D environments. It takes practise, but is one of the few phone features on any phone that lives up to the promise of making the user more creative.
It appears, however, that Sony’s heavy investment in time, as well as research and development, on camera capability has come at the expense of design. The boxy rectangular shape has barely changed since the start of the Z series, and makes the phone appear dated alongside the sleek new designs of its main competitors.
However, one can see this as camouflage: it hides capabilities that will make many photographers and videographers weep at the investment they had made into bulky equipment that is often matched in output by a handheld device.
CAT S41: Phone for the field
This is the one most people will never hear about, because they are not in the target market. It is built for a category known as rugged phones, with a brand known for its rugged equipment.
CAT is short for Caterpillar, famed for its bulldozers and other industrial equipment. It has licensed the brand to Bullitt Mobile to make phones that are intended to operate in the same environment as its other machinery. In other words, it has to be rugged, durable, and designed with both the nature of field usage and the nature of the environment in mind.
For this reason, its two most important features are its tough shell and its large battery. The rubberised edges take into account the hits the phone will take from being dropped, knocked around and exposed to the elements. It is rated IP 68 for water- and dust-resistance, and can withstand a 1.8 metre fall onto concrete.
The battery is a mammoth 5000mAh, offering 38 hours talk time and no less than 44 days standby time, meaning one can take it where electricity does not follow
For its specific purpose, this is probably the best smartphone in the world.
- Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube.
Smart grids needed for Africa’s utilities
Power utilities across Africa should rethink their business models and how they manage and monetise their assets to keep pace with the changing energy ecosystem, says COLIN BEANEY, Global Industry Director for Asset-intensive and Energy and Utilities at IFS.
Africa’s abundant natural resources and urgent need for power mean that it is one of the most exciting and innovative energy markets in a world that is moving rapidly towards clean, renewable energy sources. The continent’s energy industry is taking new approaches to providing unserved and underserved communities with access to power, with an emphasis on smart technologies and greener energy sources.
Power systems are evolving from centralised, top-down systems as interest in off-grid technology grows among African businesses and consumers. And according to PwC, we will see installed power capacity rise from 2012’s 90GW to 380GW in 2040 in sub-Saharan Africa. Power utilities are needing to rethink their business models and how they manage and monetise their assets to keep pace with the changing energy ecosystem.
Energy and utilities providers are transforming from centralised supply companies to more distributed, bi-directional service providers. They can only achieve this through the evolution of “smart grids” where sensors and smart meters will be able to provide the consumer with a more granular level of detail of power usage. This shift from an energy supplier to “lifestyle provider” will require a much more dynamic and optimised approach to maintenance and field service.
African companies must thus embrace digital transformation as an imperative. This transformation begins by embracing enterprise asset management to improve asset utilisation. The subsequent steps are enhancing upstream and downstream supply chain management; resource optimisation; introducing enterprise operational intelligence; embracing new technologies such as the Internet of Things, machine learning, and predictive maintenance; and becoming a smart utility.
Embracing mobility to drive ROI
Getting it right is about putting in place an enterprise backbone that accommodates asset and project management, multinational languages and currencies, new energies and markets, visualisation of the entire value chain, and mobility apps. Mobile technologies that support the field workforce have a vital role to play in driving better ROI from utilities’ investments in enterprise asset management and enterprise resource planning solutions.
Today’s leading enterprise asset management solutions feature powerful functionality for mobile management of the complete workflow of work orders – from logging status changes and updates, from receiving and creating new orders to concluding the job and reporting time, material and expenses. Such solutions are easy to deploy and intuitive for end users to learn and use.
Importantly for organisations operating in parts of the continent with poor telecoms infrastructure, connectivity is not an issue. The solutions work offline and synchronises when network connectivity is available. Users can work on any device—laptops, tablets, and smartphones—commercial or ruggedised.
By ensuring that field technicians have easy access to information and processes, the mobile solution enables technicians and maintenance engineers to easily do the following tasks:
· Create a new work order on the fly and log new opportunities
· Access both historical and planned work information when requested
· Permit customers to sign when the job is completed
· Capture measurements and inspection notes on route work orders
· Create new fault reports on routing
· Facilitate documentation through photo capturing
· Provide easy access to technical data and preventive actions.
The power of mobility allows the engineer to be the origin of all data capture on a service event. They can easily inquire on asset history, record parts used or parts needed for repair, record labour hours, and expenses as they occur, and any notes of repairs performed. When coupled with workforce management tools, such solutions unlock significant productivity gains for utilities who are trying to get the most from their workforce and assets.
Brands fall for app vanity
The experience of a mobile screen full of icons, representing independent apps that your need to open to experience them, is making less sense. Instead, businesses should serve customers with an ‘app-like’ experience inside the digital platform they already use, says PIETER DE VILLIERS, Group CEO at Clickatell.
Many brands remain obsessed with creating mobile apps. This not only defies trends that point to increasing consumer app apathy, but can exclude a sizeable portion of your customers in emerging economies. Companies need to engage with their users where they are rather than forcing them onto an app, in what can only be described as brand vanity.
In 2017 there were around 2.2 million apps available in the iOS app store and over 3 million on Google Play. And, while the number of apps being downloaded continues to rise, analysis shows that consumers are only using 30 apps per month and accessing just 9 on a day-to-day basis.
While these numbers still seem attractively high, in reality the majority of the apps we use are for messaging (like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and WeChat) and our social networking, gaming, leisure, dating or utility activities.
Despite the facts, the application strategy as the holy grail for digital transformation is still being pushed even within large progressive brands. What’s more, some advertising agencies and digital consultants are still pushing apps as the best means for companies to connect with their customers. This has resulted in some organisations stubbornly doubling down on app strategies which are simply not showing return on investment (ROI).
It’s not immediately clear to us whether the fascination with apps is a roll-over from long overdue projects or whether brand owners equate a mobile-first strategy with a mobile app. Mobile-first in 2018 means customer first, and therefore embracing chat commerce in order to deliver services with convenience and simplicity in mind.
Why apps won’t win the internet
The problem with apps goes beyond user fatigue. In the first instance, many apps are poorly designed, assuming technical sophistication which may not match reality for the average customer. Poor user interfaces and attempts to provide complex engagement can result in even the best ideas missing their targets due to lack of engagement.
Secondly, we all know that economic realities drive consumer behaviour. In Africa, new mobile phone users typically opt for feature phones over smartphones. With a longer battery life and a much more accessible price point, feature phones still allow for a basic internet connection, chat platforms like WhatsApp, and call and message functionality. In these regions, the cost of an app – even if it’s free – goes far beyond installing it. Constant updates require reliable and cheap access to the internet. For the average phone owner in an emerging market, this can be a serious challenge.
Thirdly, and most importantly, apps must be relevant to their intended market. Frequency of usage is a key measure of relevance.
Apps which are used on a daily basis, like health and fitness trackers, enjoy constant engagement. New features which are added are eagerly awaited by users who are happy to update their apps.
However, users may well question the relevance of the app if they are required to conduct updates on a monthly or even weekly basis when they are only making use of the app once or twice a year.
On average, I download one app per quarter. Some I use more frequently than others, but all of these apps need to be regularly updated to maintain security, update features, and fix bugs. Many apps are pushing out updates much more frequently. I noticed over the past year that I could go from having all apps updated, to 32 apps requiring an update in five days.
When it comes to a customer-first digital strategy, companies should be asking themselves if an app is really the best way to reach their target audience.
In fact, at the end of 2016, Gartner predicted that by 2019, 20 percent of brands would ditch their mobile app. What’s more, in its 2018 predictions, the company forecast that by 2021, more than 50 percent of corporations would spend more per annum on bots and chatbots than on mobile app development.
So, we need to ask, what is the alternative for CIOs, CDOs, CMOs, and digital leaders who are looking for ways to reach, retain and grow their customer base?
The logical app alternative
The old battle advice goes: fight your enemy where they are not. Military strategists agreed that having your enemy come to you and fight you on your own terms was preferable. In a world where customers have access to thousands of offerings and millions of deals online, we need to flip that idea to Meet Your Customers Where They Are.
Any marketeer will tell you just a how difficult it is to drive app downloads. Development, cross platform testing and user interface aside, the marketing campaign required to get customers to download the app can swallow entire annual budgets and still come up short.
Looking at the facts, it makes infinitely more sense to work within the digital platforms already being used by your target audience.
Clickatell is already enabling chat commerce for some of the leading global brands with its Touch solution. This allows organisations to serve their customers with an ‘app-like’ experience inside the chat or browser platform of their customer’s choice (Twitter, Facebook Messenger, etc.)
Brands can now send an actionable Touch link such as ‘find the nearest ATM’ or ‘reset my password’ within a chat stream that will open an intuitive touch card without the user having to download an app to perform the action. Services can also be linked to the in-app experience for brands not looking to abandon their app efforts.
Working with our clients, many of whom are global innovators and thought leaders, we’ve found that having the courage to design with an ‘end user first’ approach and dealing with the back-end complexity behind the scenes results in cost efficient customer delight and ROI.